‘From millions to tens of millions’: How Insider’s first-party data offering grew in 2021


Insider got a comparatively early start on its plans to get more out of its first-party data. It spent 2021 getting advertisers comfortable with Saga, the data platform they’ve built for that expressed purpose.

So while many publishers spent 2020 trying to get their first-party data plans in gear, Insider already had a battle-tested product to bring to market; it had been testing Saga with clients quietly for a year when it officially launched the product in February 2020.

In 2021, over 140 advertisers ran ad campaigns on Insider using Saga data, up from 48 in 2020. While many of those were first-time customers, a significant percentage were not. The advertisers that bought ads from Insider using Saga had a renewal rate of 48%, and the amount of money those advertisers spent on average tripled, according to a company spokesperson. On the whole, the amount of revenue Insider generated on campaigns using Saga rose 175%, from a not insignificant base. “We went from millions to tens of millions [in revenue],” said Jana Meron, Insider’s svp of programmatic and data strategy.

After launching quietly in February of 2020, after about a year of testing with select clients, Saga (named after the Norse goddess of history and storytelling), had a bit of a coming-out party in 2021. Above and beyond the ad revenue it’s driven, Meron said that Saga is now being used by different parts of the Insider’s organization for a number of different initiatives, including audience extension projects designed to drive subscription growth.

As 2022 unfolds, it will have to continue to make inroads with agencies and coax clients to try out more of its capabilities, all while continuing to leverage the data for its own internal goals.

“Saga has changed the way we do almost everything, both from a direct and a programmatic standpoint,” Meron said.

Insider is part of a cluster of publishers with large millennial audiences, including BuzzFeed and Group Nine, that have opted not to tie their first-party data to audience email addresses. It uses Permutive to store reader data locally, without cookies.

While that could take them out of the running for participating in certain advertisers’ private marketplaces, it shouldn’t negatively affect Saga’s business prospects over time. “Advertising consent is still consent, whether you give an email or not,” said Alexander Knudsen, vp of solutions engineering at Amobee.

Insider’s decision not to pursue email-based identity partly came down to what was on the market. “This whole email thing wasn’t a thing when we started going down this path,” Meron said. “The IDs of the world weren’t in anybody’s sights; our subscription product had just started.”

But Insider remained committed to their approach as part of an overarching priority of driving results for advertisers. “For us, this was saying, ‘We know that demographics aren’t always the end-all, be-all,’” Meron said. “It makes more sense to focus on the actions they [readers] take, versus the actions of a very small subset of known users. If I buy your product, and I’m not in your demographic, do you care? Generally, the answer has been no.”

It also made sense, Meron added, to focus on an approach that didn’t let the publisher’s scale go to waste — Insider reached 99 million unique users in the U.S. alone in November 2021, according to Comscore, plus substantial reach across social platforms.

Buyers can reach Saga users with four products. To date, the most popular has been Saga Surround, a kind of page takeover-style experience that gives advertisers 100% share of voice. It has also had success with Insider Extend, which does allows advertisers to do audience extension and attempt to reach audiences on social platforms.

“We find that our data performs better than the platform data when you’re targeting,” Meron said. “We saw higher [clickthrough rate] back to our sites.” 

As 2021 unfolded, the number of publishers incorporating first-party data and alternate identifiers into their ad sales deals grew healthily, with two thirds of publishers now saying that at least some of their ad sales deals involve these tools. 

But these third-party cookie replacements also remain a minor portion of publishers’ business overall. Just 15% of the respondents to a Digiday+ poll conducted in the fourth quarter of 2021 said that alternate identifiers figured in more than half of their ad sales deals, a sign that the industry’s move away from third-party cookies still has a way to go. 

“Media buyers care about results, of course, but they also care about efficiency,” said Troy Lerner, CEO of the agency Booyah Advertising. “The publishers that need to be worried are those that can’t scale, regardless of their first party data methodology.”


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